PALMYRA — All the game required was for this group of Palmyra-Macedon High School students to take a 2-foot yoga ball and throw it through a hoop at the other side of the makeshift court in a unique form of basketball.
Sounds simple enough, except this game required these students to use a robot for their star athlete and go up against other robots designed by high school students from across the nation. But it was just the kind of challenge the Pal-Mac Raider Robotics team was geared up to accomplish.
The team formed about eight years ago as part of a worldwide program called FIRST or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Current advisor Kevin Schlegel said the team falls somewhere between a typical after-school club and a high school sports team.
“It’s a practical hands-on application of what students learn in their classes,” he said. “They learn how to work in groups and collaborate, as well as work as professionals and with professionals. It’s the varsity sport of the mind.”
In January, the team is presented a problem and provided a base kit that includes base materials for a making a robot, Schlegel said. For example, this year’s problem was how to get the 2-foot yoga ball across the court and into the hoop. The team had to develop a robot that could accomplish the task, adding features they believed would aid the robot in its endeavor.
Team President Abigail Snelling got down to the nuts and bolts of it all.
“It’s kinda like when you get a Lego set to build a house,” the Pal-Mac junior said. “Then you add on to it.”
But the team isn’t just about the mechanics of building a robot. Snelling said there is a lot that goes into the team’s success. They have students who make phone calls seeking sponsors, others who take photos, and still other who are good communicators with other teams they have to work with during competitions. What’s most important is that students bring their ideas to the team — from there, they have mentors who can help fill in the gaps and make the idea a reality, Snelling said. During the robot-building season, students spend some 20 to 25 hours a week working on the bot.
“You just have to be willing try,” she said. “You have to have that willingness to learn.”
And learn they do. This is sophomore Katie Cossaboon’s first year on the team. Her expertise is photography and graphic arts. The team put her special talents to work photographing the robot during construction and in action during competition. For Cossaboon, her first year on the team taught her about design, photography and Photoshop through hands-on experience. She also gained extra credit in her digital-imaging class.
“You’re encouraged to learn new things, but also to add your own strengths to the team,” she said. “It’s an awesome experience.”
Sophomore Tymber Bartosch is the “mom” of the team, Snelling said. Bartosch has been on the team since she was a freshman working on the girl’s team making small robots. This is her first year on the big robot in the co-ed team. She said working with her fellow teammates has been a real plus.
“You really build some strong relationships,” she said.
Snelling agreed.
“If I hadn’t joined the team, I wouldn’t know the other people on the team,” she said. “So I’d say the social aspect is the best part — and the bot. I see that robot and I think, ‘Wow, I helped build that.’”
The team joined 44 other teams at the regional competition at RIT this year. The Pal-Mac team is the only robotics team in Wayne County. They finished 33rd out of 44, and although they didn’t make Nationals, Schlegel said for the team it was win.
“The robot the students designed performed exactly how they intended it to perform,” Schlegel said. “This year was a very successful year.”
The team is always looking for sponsors, which are needed to keep the team going and to allow them to enter competitions. The regional competition costs $5,000 just to enter, Schlegel said. Xerox donates $5,000 every year, but additional sponsors would help the team compete at other events, he said.
To learn more about the team or to become a sponsor, email Schlegel at or visit the team’s website at